Director: Nancy Meyers

Director: Richard Donner

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

What Women WantThe inherent asininity & sappiness of this film's central premise did not bode well for a film of any merit. And yet...

What Women Want (2000) is a Romantic Fantasy with Mel Gibson playing a sexist sort of guy transformed into maximo-sensitivity to what women want, after he finds he has acquired the disturbing ability to read their innermost secret thoughts.

He turns into the kind of guy who exists only in a thirteen year old girl's fantasy of the perfect stud-muffin who is emotionally exactly like a girlfriend. It's dumb, dumb, dumb, though possibly also true that some women do fantasize a guy who looks like Mel Gibson but thinks like a motherly dyke.

Unexpectedly enough, the script is line for line sufficiently well written, the film itself so well directed & edited, & given such an unexpectedly heart-felt performance by Gibson who comes off as a first-rate comic actor, that in fact What Women Want is authentically funny, effectively romantic, & in general very sweet. I was almost embarrassed to like it so much.

Conspiracy TheoryThe handsome action-actor from powerfully physical films like Gallipoli (1981), the Mad Max trilogy (1979, 1981, 1985) or his magnum opus Braveheart (1995), has dynamic charisma of a gorgeous sort. But these are not roles which demand much dramatic acting skill, let alone comic ability.

At first blush it's odd to think of Mel as a comic actor. Yet at second glance, it's not accidental that bits of Mad Max are a laugh riot, & Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon (1987) is played so loose & whimsical that he makes suicidal depression totally & wildly comical.

Similarly, in the Conspiracy Theory (1997), likewise directed by Richard Donner, Mel plays a man who suffers from paranoic delusions & manages to present him as a heroic romantic lead, a man with a far greater sense of humor & the absurd than any sane man. So of course Julia Roberts would fall in love with him just as Helen Hunt did in What Women Want.

On the premise that the truth can be spookier than fantasy, & even paranoids have enemies, loony conspiracy theorist issues a newsletter with something in it the powers that be didn't want known. And now "they" really are after him.

As the sinister plot unfolds, there are so many cinematic cliches tossed at the viewer that it sells itself on the "strength" of its familiarity. That the plot is nothing fresh is beside the point, however, when the point is falling in love on a roller coaster ride.

The love story can't possibly have looked convincing on paper: woman in the Justice Department pestered by mentally ill man gets caught up in his conspiracy-ruled delusions & falls madly in love with him.

I doubt there are many actors who could make it work. But if the crazy person was Mel Gibson, sure, I'll buy it, girls would fall for him no matter how loony he might be. And anyone who actually has a mentally ill sweetheart will greatly appreciate the assumption that such emotional attachment for the mad is only reasonable.

Julia Roberts rarely appeals to me either as an actor or as a bod. She looks like a grinning skeleton in a Day of the Dead parade. But in this slight role she is totally acceptable, even though a distant second-in-command well behind Mel's performance.

A few laughs, a few thrills, & a chance to believe for a while in the evil of the powers that be, since they probably really are evil. By no means a significant film, but an enjoyable one, & evidence that Mel Gibson is a master of the Romantic Comedy.

As a comedic actor, Mel's additonally great as the voice of Rocky the Rooster in Chicken Run (2000) spoofing the whole idea of heroism, while in the American remake of The Singing Detective (2003) he appears briefly as the ugly-ass Doctor Gibbon in one of the goofiest fun roles imaginable.

When we think of his dramatic "acting" failures like Hamlet (1990) or The Man Without A Face (1993), it's hard to believe Mel could be anything but a hopping dancing macho puppet in an action flick that needs no actorly brilliance, as he falls on his face when he has to be dramatic. Even his disembowlment in Braveheart is rendered laughable by his poker-faced desire to come off messianic.

Then consider the stodgy, self-important, jingoistic & religious crapola The Patriot (2000) & Passion of the Christ (2004). From these it's easy to imagine this must be a man who doesn't even possess a sense of humor. That would be guessing wrong, despite that these two items are so rottenly earnest.

But fact is, as a comic actor, surprisingly enough, he is one of the best. It might even be reasonable to suggest that comic genius underlies his success as an actor more than the pretty face, vastly more than any dramatic possibilities, & will carry him as a star even into old age when he can no longer rely on the physical to see him through.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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